Review of “The Return” by Qin Hailu

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A film on the drama of personal destiny, time, love, and the importance of the return to origins and roots

Jiang Sheng (Chang Feng) and Li Yaojun (Lei Kesheng) have known each other for a lifetime. They are two veterans, who fought in Chiang Kai-shek’s army and abandoned their families in mainland China in 1949, during the Chinese civil war between communists and nationalists. Jiang had fled to Taiwan to save Li, who was an army officer at that time.

Nowadays they meet in the Ximending district of Taipei in “Red Envelope Club” cabaret, originating from the 60s in imitation of a Shanghai cabaret. Inside the club, an audience, exclusively composed of impoverished eighty-year-old soldiers, originating from mainland China, waiting to die, listens to young women who perform old folk songs and pay them by putting money in red envelopes.

Jiang is being treated for lung cancer and his disease has now reached a terminal stage. Instead of undergoing hospital treatment, Jiang tries to find an emotional balance with Jen, a no more young cabaret girl, who sweetens her moments of tedium before “going home”.

Most of his acquaintances believe that he will die in Taiwan and that, as usual for veterans, his ashes will return to China, for burial, transported by Xia, the young assistant of Ms. Qin, the woman who manages the cabaret and takes care of the needs of veterinarians.

Qin Hailu’s first film was selected for official competition at 22° Shanghai International Film Festival’s

The bond between Jiang and Jen is deep and sincere, she takes care of him, accompanies him through the neighborhood, making sure he eats, and that there is no lack of food at home. He gets scared when he sells all the furniture to buy a coffin, with engraved scenes from his native region, which he calls the bed and where he starts sleeping in it.

Since his departure from China, he has never been in contact with the family and confides to Jen that only after the wedding he discovered that his wife was beautiful. The woman who feels emotionally touched by Jiang’s melancholy gives to him a “mysterious” letter from her illiterate wife, preserved by Li who visited his friend’s home village.

Jen and Xia will try to help Jiang on his return trip, mending the faded memories of the elder with an old drawing of his native village and with the letter kept for many years by Li.

In the film that tells a story, that is almost a documentary, of the sad life and the last few years in Taiwan of a Guomindang soldier, we can find a strong sense of solitude, melancholy, homesickness, and life never lived.

“The Return” is about the existential drama of the defeated soldiers of Chiang Kai-Shek, stranded in Taiwan after the war

A desire to return to the origins, and to the native flavors, which we see when the protagonist intent on recreating the spicy sauce recipe of his native region.

The solitary life of the elderly man isolated and abandoned to his destiny finds sole comfort in his memories and in his objects that have a value and a meaning solely for him, for those who empathically understand him and want to be close to him.

When he tries to sell the objects of his past to a young man, his properties are devalued and treated as junk. It seems that some young people don’t understand the cultural value they have in front of their eyes.

Born during the war and aged abroad, it represents that generation of people who had to put forced choices before their personal choices and for this reason, they live with a sense of regret and remorse of the past. If on the one hand, the arrival of sunset in Jiang’s life instills a sense of despair, on the other hand, his connection with Jen (Ge Lei, also known as Grace Ko) offers a sense of peace and calm, since the sense of respect and gratitude are emphasized.

The cabaret has the days numbered, as well as the expatriate community of blocked soldiers that gravitates around it: the death of the last spectator coincides with the death of the activity of the club which makes no more sense without them.

After the victory of Mao in 1949, a generation of exile soldiers wandered forever separated from their family and country

Certainly, it is not a center of charity, since, from the chatter of the girls in the dressing rooms of the cabaret, we understand that to have some extra money someone can decide to offer more than a simple singing performance. But ultimately it’s the only place with a sense of human compassion for these elderly people who are far from their families living on a miserable military annuity and whose only ambitions are limited to saving for their funeral honors.

These men could return to China, but they believe that it is too late to recover and re-establish relations with families that haven’t been in touch for decades. But Jiang nevertheless doesn’t want to deny himself the possibility of recovery (better late than never). He has the expectation and hope of seeing his old village again, despite the knowledge that it’s no longer possible to change one’s path according to one’s desires and that his family is made up of a wife he doesn’t know.

Actor Chang Feng, who plays the 84-year veteran Jiang, is 96 years old and recently at the 22° Shanghai International Film Festival, where he won the award in the “Best Actor” category, said, “This is the final film that seals my acting career”.

The debut film by the famous theater and film actress Qin Hailu also sees her as a co-writer with Yang Xiaoli.

Qin Hailu

Her first film touches on themes of profound social value. With great attention to detail, traditions that are now disappearing and the values of the past linked to memories are brought to light.

The melancholy and nostalgic soundtrack infuses and perfectly captures the emotional pathos that accompanies Jiang devoured for all his life by the desire to return home, as well as physically devours the illness that leads him to have his days numbered.

Thanks to Fortissimo Films


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